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  • Archive for the 'Iran' Category

    Syria, Iran and the Risks of Tactical Geopolitics

    Posted by Zenpundit on 13th February 2012 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted from zenpundit.com


    Mr. Nyet 

    World affairs are much more like spider’s web than the neat little drawers of an apothecary’s cabinet. In the latter,  the contents of each drawer are cleanly isolated and conveniently compartmentalized. What you do with the contents of one drawer today has no bearing on what you do next week with those of another. By contrast, with a spider’s web, when you touch a web at any point, not only do you find it to be sticky in a fragile sort of way, but your touch sends vibrations through every centimeter of the lattice.

    Which alerts the spiders.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, China, Europe, International Affairs, Iran, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Political Philosophy, Politics, Russia, United Nations, USA, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    Outing the Assassination Campaign Against Iranian Nuke Scientists

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th February 2012 (All posts by )

    Does this story mean that the US govt is not only not collaborating with Israel but is trying to undermine Israeli covert efforts? If so that is very bad news. We need more information. If the story is valid and our govt has decided to leak it to the press now, that suggests that we are 1) shockingly inept or 2) may be trying to cut a deal with the mullahs by sacrificing our ally or 3) both. Either way it sounds bad. I hope there’s more to the story.

    Posted in Iran, Israel, Middle East, National Security | 16 Comments »

    Anticipating An Israeli Attack On Iran

    Posted by Jonathan on 2nd February 2012 (All posts by )

    Is Israel preparing to attack Iran? asks David Ignatius.

    I think the obvious answer is yes. So why is the US govt trying to stop it?

    -Answer 1: Obama doesn’t want any trouble (e.g., high fuel prices, possible US involvement) going into the November elections.

    -Answer 2: Obama doesn’t want anyone to attack Iran under any circumstances.

    -Answer 3: Obama is confident that his overt/covert appeasement/negotiation campaign will eventually work and doesn’t want anyone else to front run him.

    -Answer 4: We really do want Israel to attack Iran, but as in 1981 with Iraq we will publicly condemn while privately applauding.

    -Answer 5: Obama is planning to attack Iran and doesn’t want to share credit with anyone else.

    ???

    UPDATE: Via Robert Schwartz, Barry Rubin’s well reasoned argument that there will be no attack on Iran.

    Posted in Iran, Israel, National Security, Politics, War and Peace | 30 Comments »

    “The Zionist Imperative”

    Posted by Jonathan on 29th January 2012 (All posts by )

    Caroline Glick:

    Today’s principal form of Jew-hatred is anti- Zionism. Anti-Zionism is similar to previous dominant forms of Jew hatred such as Christian anti-Judaism, xenophobic and racist anti- Semitism, and Communist anti-Jewish cosmopolitanism in the sense that it takes dominant, popular social trends and turns them against the Jews. Anti-Zionism’s current predominance owes to the convergence of several popular social trends which include Western post-nationalism, and anti-colonialism.

    Worth reading in full.

    UPDATE: David Foster provides a link to a well written blog post about a BDS conference at U. Penn.

    Posted in International Affairs, Iran, Israel, Judaism, Quotations, USA | 6 Comments »

    On “Leverages”

    Posted by onparkstreet on 11th January 2012 (All posts by )

    In a previous post, I asked a question about leverages in terms of foreign policy:

    A key–an essential–question on leverages at Abu Muqawama (Dr. Andrew Exum):

    Where things get tricky is when one tries to decide what to do about that. The principle problem is one that has been in my head watching more violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Egypt: the very source of U.S. leverage against the regimes in Bahrain and Egypt is that which links the United States to the abuses of the regime in the first place. So if you want to take a “moral” stand against the abuses of the regime in Bahrain and remove the Fifth Fleet, congratulations! You can feel good about yourself for about 24 hours — or until the time you realize that you have just lost the ability to schedule a same-day meeting with the Crown Prince to press him on the behavior of Bahrain’s security forces. Your leverage, such as it was, has just evaporated. The same is true in Egypt. It would feel good, amidst these violent clashes between the Army and protesters, to cut aid to the Egyptian Army. But in doing so, you also reduce your own leverage over the behavior of the Army itself.

    Okay, so we have leverage with an Army cracking down on its own people, an Army fattened on US military aid and training. I thought bilateral military training was supposed to mitigate the worst instincts of some armies? Isn’t that the theory? What does it mean to have leverage? To what end? To what purpose? I don’t know the answer and I don’t think anyone does, so Dr. Exum has a point. We have no strategy (link goes to Zen) within which to place “trade offs”. Well, if we do, I can’t see it.

    Greg Scoblete at The Compass (RealClearWorld) asks the question in a much better fashion (I enjoy reading that blog, whether I agree or disagree with specific points):

    But all of this begs an important question – leverage for what? The idea is that the U.S. invests in places like Bahrain and Egypt because it needs or wants something in return. During the Cold War, it was keeping these states out of the Soviet orbit. In the 1990s and beyond, it was ensuring these states remained friendly with Israel and accommodative to U.S. military power in the region. Today, what? What is it that U.S. policy requires from Egypt and Bahrain that necessitates supporting these regimes during these brutal crack downs?

    How should we view American policy toward the Middle East? What is the larger strategic framework within which we ought to view the various relationships? What is the optimal posture for the United States? Folks, I don’t know. I’d love to know your opinions on the subject.

    Posted in Blogging, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Military Affairs, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Russia, Society, Terrorism, United Nations, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 1st December 2011 (All posts by )

    Melanie Phillips:

    For some thirty years, Britain and the west have experienced war waged upon them by Iran – but fantastically, have refused to acknowledge this fact. They refused to fight back. They refused therefore also to acknowledge what has been crystal clear for at least the past two decades: that it was never going to be a choice between war or peace with Iran. It was always going to be a choice between fighting that war sooner, when Iran was weaker and the west had more chance of minimising the fall-out, and fighting that war later, when Iran would be much stronger – and possibly even a nuclear power – and when the consequences for the west would be that much more terrible.

    Posted in Iran, Quotations, War and Peace | 35 Comments »

    As long as we are talking about energy issues….

    Posted by onparkstreet on 31st July 2011 (All posts by )

    The US plans to hold what State Department officials are calling “exploratory talks” in Riyadh next week to gauge Saudi objectives behind their interest in a civilian nuclear deal. The US also wants to explore whether the Saudi government would accept restrictions to ensure its nuclear fuel is used purely for civilian purposes, according to congressional sources.
    .
    The US has recently concluded civilian nuclear trade deals – or so-called “123” agreements – with India and the United Arab Emirates and is in advanced discussions with countries including Jordan, Vietnam, and South Korea.

    Christian Science Monitor

    Top exporter Saudi Arabia approved sales of 3 million barrels of extra crude to India for August to make up for a loss of shipments from Iran due to a payment dispute, sources with direct knowledge of the sale said on Tuesday.
    .
    Iran cut sales for August to pressure Indian refiners into settling $5 billion in debts for oil supplied, after New Delhi failed to find a way around US and UN sanctions that make financing deals with Tehran difficult.

    TradeArabia

    After the talks by Kaplan and Lynch at the sponsors’ breakfast, Francis “Bing” West, who was sitting near me, said he found them wildly over optimistic about the next several decades, which he thinks will be dominated by the proliferation of nuclear weaponry. But let him tell it his own way: “That was insane. The lesson of Libya is, Get a nuclear weapon and tell everyone to go fuck themselves. Qaddafi got rid of his nukes and we said, ‘OK, you’re out of there.’”

    Tom Ricks, Best Defense

    Pakistan is currently facing a major energy crisis, which some analysts believe may be the worst in its history. It desperately needs Iranian gas and is not shy to say it. “Our dependence on the Iran pipeline is very high. There is no other substitute at present to meet our growing demand for energy” stated Pakistani minister for petroleum, Asim Hussain recently.

    the Atlantic

    Supposedly, the Bush administration attempted to use Musharraf to convince the Iranians not to go nuclear, which is one of several reasons the administration went so easy on his regime. Yeah, yeah, I know, but someone in the big-time thought it might work. Before you blow a gasket, remember that the world is complicated. There are so many complicated international relationships that Washington has no idea how to handle them in concert. Action A makes issue B better but issue C worse. That’s what happens when you have too many fingers in too many pies.

    Why is “drill here, drill now” not a national security imperative?

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Energy & Power Generation, International Affairs, Iran, Miscellaneous, National Security, Politics | 18 Comments »

    On the ideas that follow us, one decade to the next….

    Posted by onparkstreet on 11th July 2011 (All posts by )

    Detente’s greatest achievement was the opening of consistent contact between the United States and the USSR in the early 1970s—a gradually intensifying engagement on many levels and in many areas that, as it grew over the years, would slowly but widely open the Soviet Union to information, contacts, and ideas from the West and would facilitate an ongoing East-West dialogue that would influence the thinking of many Soviet officials and citizens.

    - From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War by Robert M. Gates. (I am currently reading this book).

    Indeed Washington’s on-again off-again attention to the region, driven by relatively short term developments like the Soviet-Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the war against terror, makes Iranian and Chinese overtures appealing to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

    - A Sino-Persian grab for the Indian Ocean? by Jamsheed K. Choksy (Small Wars Journal)

    Earlier this month the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, twisted his mouth into the shape of a pretzel to explain why it was okay for the U.S. to support Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal but not okay to support North Korea’s arsenal and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He also saw no problem with the United States as much declaring war on India when he sympathized with Pakistan’s need to use nuclear weapons against India in order to feel safe.
     
    Then Americans wonder why Pyongyang and Tehran laugh at Washington’s lectures on nuclear proliferation. The leaders of both regimes have been doing clandestine nuke business with Pakistan for decades. They know Pakistan is the biggest nuclear weapons proliferator on the planet — and so does Mullen, who is the highest ranking military officer in the USA and as such is the principal military advisor to the President of the United States, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense.
     
    That’s not the half of the double standard America has practiced with regard to Pakistan. Barely a day goes by that the American news media doesn’t warn of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran because of the regime’s end-of-time religious views, which American news analyst John Batchelor has termed “hallucinatory.”
     
    It doesn’t get more hallucinatory than the views of Pakistani media mogul, Majeed Nizami, the owner of the Nawa-i-Waqt, The Nation, and Waqt TV channel. During a recent speech at a function given in his honor he declared that Pakistan’s missiles and nuclear bombs were superior to “India’s ghosts,” and that unleashing nuclear war against India was imperative. “Don’t worry if a couple of our cities are also destroyed in the process.”
     
    That would be the same Nation newspaper that cites the United States government as being behind every terrorist incident in the world, including the Times Square attack.
     
    If you think Nizami is an isolated nut case, you don’t know much about him, or Pakistan. He is the true face of the most powerful factions in Pakistan including its military leaders.
     
    But in the view of the U.S. government and news media it’s okay for Pakistan’s military to hold hallucinatory views whereas it’s not okay for Iran’s leaders because, well, because.
     
    It’s the same for anti-Semitic views that abound in Pakistan. In the same article that discussed Nizami’s view that nuclear Armageddon was the ticket to peace in South Asia, Pakistani journalist Shakil Chaudhary reported on a June 18 column in Nizami’s Nawa-i-Waqt paper in which Lt. Gen. Abdul Qayyum (ret), former chairman of Pakistan Steel Mills, approvingly quoted Adolph Hitler as saying: “I could have annihilated all the Jews in the world, but I left some of them so that you can know why I was killing them.”

    - He ain’t heavy, he’s my genocidal, hallucinatory, two-faced ‘ally’ by blogger Pundita.

    Why do you suppose certain factions in DC appear so adamant on retaining Pakistan as a “strategic asset” post 9-11 and post Abbottabad? CBz blogger Joseph Fouche recently posted a nice piece about the tendency for some to see patterns and intrigues when mere muddle may well explain reality. Sadly, I am prone to this….

    So what exactly is our muddle? Is what I’ve posted above overstated and alarmist? State and USAID want to keep its various lucrative aid programs? The Pentagon/DOD want to keep its favorite “proxy” Army for future use against any kind of “sino-islamic” alliance – or Russia or Iran? Tons of money (supposedly….take all of this with a grain of salt) sloshing around DC from various foreign entities, such as the Saudis or the Pak Mil/ISI? Plain old strategic “incompetence” typical of a big, energetic and free-wheeling democracy?

    What other rationales might be keeping warring DC factions up at night? Placating the Saudis and keeping the oil flowing? Monitoring Pakistani nukes? (Okay, this one for sure). Preventing even more proliferation via Pakistani-Saudi transfers?

    The world is three dimensional and complicated with various currents pulling our policy makers in different directions. I’d be delighted to hear creative thinking on any of these topics by one of the Republican presidential candidates. Your thoughts? Opinions? Relevent anecdotes, articles, films, or books?

    Help a gal out, people.

    Posted in Afghanistan 2050, Afghanistan/Pakistan, China, Economics & Finance, History, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Military Affairs, Russia, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    Rapturous times, neh?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 21st May 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted at Zenpundit -- apocalyptic movements, best readings, budget shortfalls, lack of support for scholarship in crucial natsec areas -- and with a h/t to Dan from Madison for the video that triggered this post ]
    .
    .
    What with rapture parties breaking out all over, billboards in Dubai proclaiming The End and thousands of Hmong tribespeople in Vietnam among the believers, this whole sorry business of Harold Camping‘s latest end times prediction is catching plenty of attention. I thought it might be helpful to recommend some of the more interesting and knowledgeable commentary on Camping’s failed prophecy.

    *

    First, three friends and colleagues of mine from the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, about which I will have a further paragraph later:

    Richard Landes of BU has a text interview here, and a TV interview here. His forthcoming book, Heaven on Earth, is a monumental [554 pp.] treatment of millenarian movements ranging “from ancient Egypt to modern-day UFO cults and global Jihad” with a focus on “ten widely different case studies, none of which come from Judaism or Christianity” — and “shows that many events typically regarded as secular–including the French Revolution, Marxism, Bolshevism, Nazism-not only contain key millennialist elements, but follow the apocalyptic curve of enthusiastic launch, disappointment and (often catastrophic) re-entry into ‘normal time’”.

    Stephen O’Leary of USC wrote up the Harold Camping prediction a couple of days ago on the WSJ “Speakeasy” blog. He’s the rhetorician and communications scholar who co-wrote the first article on religion on the internet, and his specialty as it applies to apocalyptic thinking is doubly relevant: the timing of the end — and the timing of the announcement of the end. His book, Arguing the Apocalypse, is the classic treatment.

    Damian Thompson of the Daily Telegraph is a wicked and witty blogger on all things Catholic and much else beside — the normally staid Church Times (UK) once called him a “blood-crazed ferret” and he wears the quote with pride on his blog, where you can also find his comments on Camping. Damian’s book, Waiting for Antichrist, is a masterful treatment of one “expecting” church in London, and has a lot to tell us about the distance between the orthodoxies of its clergy and the various levels of enthusiasm and eclectic beliefs of their congregants.

    Three experts, three highly recommended books.

    *

    Two quick notes for those whose motto is “follow the money” (I prefer “cherchez la femme” myself, but chacun a son gout):

    The LA Times has a piece that examines the “worldwide $100-million campaign of caravans and billboards, financed by the sale and swap of TV and radio stations” behind Camping’s more recent prediction (the 1994 version was less widely known).

    Well worth reading.

    And for those who suspect the man of living “high on the hog” — this quote from the same piece might cause you to rethink the possibility that the man’s sincere (one can be misguided with one’s integrity intact, I’d suggest):

    Though his organization has large financial holdings, he drives a 1993 Camry and lives in a modest house.

    *

    Now back to the Center for Millennial Studies.

    While it existed, it was quite simply the world center of apocalyptic, messianic and millenarian studies. CMS conferences brought together a wide range of scholars of different eras and areas, who could together begin to fathom the commonalities and differences — anthropological, theological, psychological, political, local, global, historical, and contemporary — of movements such as the Essenes, the Falun Gong, the Quakers, Nazism, the Muenster Anabaptists, al-Qaida, the Taiping Rebellion, Branch Davidians, the Y2K scare, classic Marxism, Aum Shinrikyo and Heaven’s Gate.

    And then the year 2000 came and went, and those who hadn’t followed the work of the CMS and its associates thought it’s all over, no more millennial expectation, we’ve entered the new millennium with barely a hiccup.

    Well, guess what. It was at the CMS that David Cook presented early insights from his definitive work on contemporary millennial movements in Islam — and now we have millennial stirrings both on the Shia side (President Ahmadinejad et al) and among the Sunni (AQ theorist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri devotes the last hundred pages of his treatise on jihad to “signs of the end times”)…

    Apocalyptic expectation continues. But Richard Landes’ and Stephen O’Leary’s fine project, the CMS, is no longer with us to bring scholars together to discuss what remains one of the key topics of our times. When Richard’s book comes out, buy it and read it — and see if you don’t see what I mean.

    Or read Jean-Pierre Filiu‘s Apocalypse in Islam. Please. Or Tim Furnish‘s recent paper.

    *

    And while it may not see Judgment Day or the beginning of the end of the world as predicted, what this week has seen is the end of funding of Fulbright scholarships for doctoral dissertation research abroad. But then as Abu Muqawama points out:

    hey, it’s probably safe to cut funding for these languages. It’s hard to see Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan or anywhere in the Arabic-speaking world causing issues in terms of U.S. national security interests anytime soon.

    Right?

    So the CMS isn’t the only significant scholarly venue we’ve lost to terminal lack of vision.

    Posted in Academia, Blogging, Book Notes, Christianity, Education, History, International Affairs, Iran, Islam, National Security, Predictions, Religion, Rhetoric, That's NOT Funny, Vietnam | Comments Off

    The Glenn Beck, Mahdism and Antichrist series

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 27th April 2011 (All posts by )

    [cross-posted from Zenpundit ]
    .

    Glenn Beck has a new documentary coming out tonight on Mahdism and the Antichrist.

    He calls it “the documentary that you will not see on mainstream television” and to get to see it, you have to be a subscriber to Beck’s Insider Extreme channel on the web. But then that fits with Beck’s emphasis right now — he doesn’t mind crying shame on the media for not carrying the documentary, but he doesn’t want unbelievers to see it either — he told his radio audience today:

    Make sure you see it tonight at nine o’clock. And if I may recommend that you watch it with some friends. Invite some friends over, some like-minded people, don’t try to get any converts in. Pull up the nets, man, pull up the nets.

    So okay — it won’t be on “mainstream television” but it will be seen in a million “like-minded” homes, and it will influence them, it will influence their perspective on Islam, and on the Middle East.

    Here’s a description of what they can expect, drawn from Joel Rosenberg‘s blog today. Joel is the author of the apocalyptic thriller The Twelfth Imam, has seen the rough cut and will be appearing on the video, along with those he lists here:

    Tonight on his website, Glenn Beck will premiere his new documentary film, “Rumors of War — Part Two.” As with Part One, I was interviewed for the film…

    The documentary examines current events and trends in the Middle East and the Islamic world from various vantage points — Biblical End Times theology, Jewish End Times theology, and Islamic End Times theology. It discusses the latest threats from the Radical Islamic world to Israel, the West and our allies. It features a wide range of Jewish, Muslim and evangelical Christian authors and commentators in a balanced yet provocative and fascinating way. Among them:

    • Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the U.N.
    • Reza Kahlili, former CIA agent inside Iran and author of A Time To Betray
    • Tim LaHaye, author of the Left Behind novel series
    • Brigitte Gabriel, author of They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It
    • Joel Richardson, author of The Islamic Antichrist
    • Dr. Zudi Jasser, president of American Islamic Forum for Democracy

    *

    The thing is, Beck doesn’t know a whole lot about these things, and his advisers get things wrong — sometimes flat out wrong, sometimes just out of proportion — too.

    I aim to review Beck’s documentary along with its predecessor, and the books of Joel Richardson and Joel Rosenberg, and also take a look at some other books and articles that cover the same materials with greater scholarship and less religious special interest — notably the works of David Cook, J-P Filiu and Timothy Furnish — clear up some of this issues in which definitive corrections are in order, suggest areas where the preponderance of evidence and informed commentary leans away from Beck’s position, and raise again those urgent questions which remain.

    Because from where I sit, Glenn Beck has hit on one of our blind spots — and is giving us a dangerously distorted mirror in which to view it.

    *

    Here’s Beck talking about the upcoming documentary this morning on his radio show:

    Tonight, you don’t want to miss, on Insider Extreme, something that we have been trying to tell the story for quite some time, and I have told it to you many times before, the story of the Twelfth Imam, well this is not the full story of the Twelfth Imam, this is what people Middle East believe about the Twelfth Imam, or the Mahdi as the… Sunnis? Sunnis are in Egypt, Shias are in, ah, is it Shias in Iran or is it the other way around? I think it’s S.. Shias are in Iran. One believes in the Twelfth Imam, the others believe in the Mahdi, same guy, it is the… the… you would know it as the Antichrist. It is the, it has every earmarking of the Antichrist, every single one, I mean, he makes a peace for seven years with Egypt, he viol… — I mean with Israel, he violates it, he marks people with a number, he beheads people if they don’t submit, I mean it’s all there. It’s all there. And Ahmadinejad says that he is alive and well and orchestrating the things in the Middle East.

    Did you get that? He’s not sure: “is it Shias in Iran or is it the other way around?”

    If Beck has been working on this documentary for a year now, let’s hope he does in fact know the difference between Sunni and Shi’a, and that he’s using the popular gag technique of pretending not to know, so his audience — who haven’t all been working on a documentary and may well not know — can feel all the more strongly “he’s one of us”. And besides, Sunni, Shia, it’s all the same, Mahdi, Twelfth Imam, no difference at all, right?

    So that’s the level of required accuracy that’s tolerated here. Which side was it wanted to keep slavery? I forget now, I think it may have been the South. Belfast — now is that Catholic, or Protestant?

    *

    And one last quick note from the same post on Joel Rosenberg’s blog:

    As far as I can tell, Glenn Beck is leaving the Fox News Channel in part because Fox is opposed to him devoting so much time on his program to End Times issues, Bible prophecy, Iran’s eschatology, and the linkage of these things to left wing efforts to sow seeds of revolution and chaos. It’s too bad, really.

    That’s an interesting data point.

    *

    There will be plenty to talk about, anyway:

    the new documentary, Joel Rosenberg’s thriller, which I enjoyed, Joel Richardson, with whom I correspond and whom I like, the new Mahdist video in Iran which is causing quite a stir, and may or may not be an “official” Iranian production, the vexed question — vexed in all three Abrahamic faiths — of whether you can hasten the coming of the Awaited One and if so, how, and the implications of all this both in the United States and in the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear program…

    The Glenn Beck, Mahdism & Antichrist blog series, coming up.

    Posted in Beck-O-Lanche, Christianity, International Affairs, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Religion, Rhetoric, Terrorism | 12 Comments »

    Soon soon coming of the Mahdi?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 28th March 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    *

    Okay, I’d say things are heating up. Here’s a screen grab from what we are led to believe is a recent video from Iran, made with government backing as described below the fold.

    death-of-abdullah-sign-of-mahdi.jpg

    This does not bode well…

    *

    The Christian thriller novelist Joel Rosenberg (author of The Twelfth Imam) has a new blog post up, in which he cites a Christian Broadcasting Network story — which in turn refers to a video posted with some introductory materials on his blog by Reza Kahlili (author of A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran).

    According to Kahlili, who has also posted the full video to YouTube, it is a half-hour long program sponsored by the Basij militia and the Office of the President of Iran, affirming the soon-return of the Mahdi.

    And containing “inflammatory language” about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (see subtitle above)? Can I say that?

    For what it’s worth, the supposed “hadith” about the death of King Abdullah is discussed in some detail at The Wake-Up Project, so it’s definitely “in the air” — but I don’t recall seeing any references to it in Abbas Amanat, Abdulazziz Sachedina, or any of the lists of Signs of the Coming I’ve read, so my suspicion is that this is an opportunistic addition to the corpus rather than a reliable hadith.

    Which brings me to my last point:

    I am not posting these materials to encourage panic — that’s what terrorism strives for, and it is the very opposite of what I would wish to see. If anything, these stirrings of Mahdist sentiment should make us more careful and attentive to the serious scholarly work that has been done in this area. Jean-Pierre Filiu‘s book Apocalypse in Islam, which I reviewed for Jihadology, would be an excellent place to start.

    *

    There are plenty of other things going on that I would love to track, blog about or comment on these days, but for the next while I shall try to restrain myself and focus in on this particular issue and its ramifications:

    • Contemporary Shi’ite Mahdist expectation
    • The Iranian nuclear program in the light of Mahdist expectation
    • Iranian attempts to use Mahdism to unite Sunni and Shi’a
    • Mahdism and jihad
    • The role of Khorasan in Mahdist rhetoric
    • Christian apocalyptic responses to Mahdist stirrings
    • Joel Rosenberg‘s book, The Twelfth Imam
    • Joel Richardson‘s book, The Islamic Antichrist
    • Glenn Beck‘s increasing focus on Iranian Mahdism
    • The increasing influence of Islamic and Christian apocalyptic on geopolitics

    This is a pretty complex and potent mix of topics, and while I’ll post some individual pieces of the puzzle as I see it, I shall also try to put together a “bigger picture” piece with the whole mosaic laid out.

    *

    Apart from that, I remain deeply committed to questions of chivalry and peace-making, and will continue to monitor developments and write what I can on those topics as time allows…

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Anti-Americanism, Blogging, Christianity, International Affairs, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Predictions, Religion, Rhetoric | 5 Comments »

    Honor killings

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 7th March 2011 (All posts by )

    I had occasion today to give myself a quick refresher course on honor killings, one form of which is already present in the Torah as of Leviticus 21.9:

    And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.

    and found myself once again noting that there is a substantial swathe of regions of the world where honor killings are found, and that where it is found (including in immigrant communities from those parts of the world) the practice is not confined to any one religious group.

    Hence this DoubleQuote:

    I think it is appropriate to consider honor killing a form of religious violence when the claim is made by those who do the killing that they are acting in the name of their religion — but that it is also important to distinguish such acts committed in a cultural context in which they are practiced across religions from acts that are the exclusive province of one religious tradition.

    There are examples of honor killings which are performed in the name of Islam, and/or advocated by Islamic scholars — and the same could no doubt be said of other religious traditions — but honor killing as a genre is fundamentally more cultural than religious.

    Sources: Brandeis studyBBCSydney Morning Herald

    The analytic point:

    From my point of view as an analyst, it is important to note and compare both religious and cultural drivers — neither avoiding mention of the one out of “correctness” — nor overlooking the other for lack of comparative data.

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Britain, Christianity, Human Behavior, Immigration, India, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, Morality and Philosphy, Religion, Society | 36 Comments »

    Afghanistan, Egypt and Obama

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th January 2011 (All posts by )

    I have previously posted my opinion that Afghanistan is not worth the cost. I stated my reasons why we should leave here and here and here. Nothing has changed there but a lot is happening elsewhere in the Middle East.

    Egypt’s escalating tensions amount to the first real foreign crisis for the Obama administration that it did not inherit. The crisis serves as a test of Obama’s revamped White House operation. Daley, a former Commerce secretary in the Clinton administration, is now running a staff that is briefing Obama regularly on Egypt.

    They have handled it badly. This is a very dangerous time for us. The Egyptian Army seems to be siding with the protesters. That may or may not last.

    The left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz says that Egyptian army officers in Cairo’s central square have tossed aside their helmets and joined the crowd. “The Army and the people are one,” they chanted. MSNBC’s photoblog shows protesters jubilantly perched on M1A1 tanks. The real significance of these defections is that the army officers would not have done so had they not sensed which way the winds were blowing — in the Egyptian officer corps.

    And even as Mubarak tottered, the Saudi king threw his unequivocal backing behind the aging dictator — not hedging like Obama — but the Iranians continued to back the Egyptian protesters. The Saudi exchange tumbled 6.44% on news of unrest from Cairo. Meanwhile, the Voice of America reports that Israel is “extremely concerned” that events in Egypt could mean the end of the peace treaty between the two countries. If Mubarak isn’t finished already, a lot of regional actors are calculating like he might be.

    But Washington will not be hurried. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that President Obama will review his Middle Eastern policy after the unrest in Egypt subsides. The future, in whose spaces the administration believed its glories to lie, plans to review its past failures in the same expansive place. Yet time and oil wait for no one. Crude oil prices surged as the markets took the rapid developments in. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu observed that any disruption to Middle East oil supplies “could actually bring real harm.”

    Of course, Mr Chu should not worry as we have wind and solar to take up the slack. Actually, we get our oil from Canada and Mexico but the price of oil shifts with the world’s supply.

    The present Obama commitment to Afghanistan is ironic since he promised to bring troops home but he has declared that Iraq was NOT necessary and Afghanistan is. This is slightly crazy. The Iraq invasion was an example of US power being applied in a critical location; right in the middle of the Middle East. Afghanistan is a remote tribal society reachable only through unreliable Pakistan. It has minimal effect on world events. We went there to punish the Taliban for harboring the people who attacked our country. Thousands of them have been killed. We have little of interest there now. We should have left last year.

    With a Shi’ite dominated government in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a Muslim Brotherhood that may keep Egypt in neutral or tacitly accept Teheran’s leadership, how could things possibly get worse?

    They can if Saudi Arabia starts to go. And what response can the U.S. offer? With U.S. combat power in landlocked Afghanistan and with the last U.S. combat forces having left Iraq in August 2010, the U.S. will have little on the ground but the State Department. “By October 2011, the US State Department will assume responsibility for training the Iraqi police and this task will largely be carried out by private contractors.” The bulk of American hard power will be locked up in secondary Southwest Asian theater, dependent on Pakistan to even reach the sea with their heavy equipment.

    This is not where we want to be. The problem is that Obama and Hillary and the rest of this administration have no concept of strategy.

    The Obama administration made fundamental strategic mistakes, whose consequences are now unfolding. As I wrote in the Ten Ships, a post which referenced the Japanese Carrier fleet which made up the strategic center of gravity of the enemy during the Pacific War, the center of gravity in the present crisis was always the Middle East. President Obama, by going after the criminals who “attacked America on 9/11″ from their staging base was doing the equivalent of bombing the nameless patch of ocean 200 miles North of Oahu from which Nagumo launched his raid. But he was not going after the enemy center of gravity itself.

    For all of its defects the campaign in Iraq was at least in the right place: at the locus of oil, ideology and brutal regimes that are the Middle East. Ideally the campaign in Iraq would have a sent a wave of democratization through the area, undermined the attraction of radical Islam, provided a base from which to physically control oil if necessary. That the campaign failed to attain many of its objectives should not obscure the fact that its objectives were valid. It made far more strategic sense than fighting tribesmen in Afghanistan. Ideology, rogue regimes, energy are the three entities which have replaced the “ten ships” of 70 years ago. The means through which these three entities should be engaged ought to be the subject of reasoned debate, whether by military, economic or technological means. But the vital nature of these objectives ought not to be. Neutralize the intellectual appeal of radical Islam, topple the rogue regimes, and ease Western dependence on oil and you win the war. Yet their centrality, and even their existence is what the politicians constantly deny.

    Events are unfolding, but they have not yet run their course; things are still continuing to cascade. If the unrest spreads to the point where the Suez and regional oil fall into anti-Western hands, the consequences would be incalculable. The scale of the left’s folly: their insistence on drilling moratoriums, opposition to nuclear power, support of negotiations with dictators at all costs, calls for unilateral disarmament, addiction to debt and their barely disguised virulent anti-Semitism should be too manifest to deny.

    Leftism is making common cause with Islamic terrorism. Why ? I don’t really know. Some of it may be the caricature of Jews making money and being good at business. Some may simply be the extension of animosity to Israel extending to all Jews. The people behind Obama are not free of these sentiments. His Justice Department is filled with lawyers who defended terrorists at Guantanamo. Holder seems uninterested in voting rights cases if a black is the offender. He was even unwilling to say that Islamic terrorism was behind 9/11.

    Because it will hit them where it hurts, in the lifestyle they somehow thought came from some permanent Western prosperity that was beyond the power of their fecklessness to destroy. It will be interesting to see if anyone can fill up their cars with carbon credits when the oil tankers stop coming or when black gold is marked at $500 a barrel. It is even possible that within a relatively short time the only government left friendly to Washington in the Middle East may be Iraq. There is some irony in that, but it is unlikely to be appreciated.

    I would add a bit to this from one of my favorite essays on the topic. It compares Gorbachev to Obama.

    Nor are the two men, themselves, remotely comparable in their backgrounds, or political outlook. Gorbachev, for instance, had come up from tractor driver, not through elite schools including Harvard Law; he lacked the narcissism that constantly seeks self-reflection through microphones and cameras, or the sense that everything is about him.

    On the other hand, some interesting comparisons could be made between the thuggish party machine of Chicago, which raised Obama as its golden boy; and the thuggish party machine of Moscow, which presented Gorbachev as its most attractive face.

    Both men have been praised for their wonderful temperaments, and their ability to remain unperturbed by approaching catastrophe. But again, the substance is different, for Gorbachev’s temperament was that of a survivor of many previous catastrophes.

    Yet they do have one major thing in common, and that is the belief that, regardless of what the ruler does, the polity he rules must necessarily continue. This is perhaps the most essential, if seldom acknowledged, insight of the post-modern “liberal” mind: that if you take the pillars away, the roof will continue to hover in the air.

    In another passage:

    There is a corollary of this largely unspoken assumption: that no matter what you do to one part of a machine, the rest of the machine will continue to function normally.

    A variant of this is the frequently expressed denial of the law of unintended consequences: the belief that, if the effect you intend is good, the actual effect must be similarly happy.

    Very small children, the mad, and certain extinct primitive tribes, have shared in this belief system, but only the fully college-educated liberal has the vocabulary to make it sound plausible.

    With an incredible rapidity, America’s status as the world’s pre-eminent superpower is now passing away. This is a function both of the nearly systematic abandonment of U.S. interests and allies overseas, with metastasizing debt and bureaucracy on the home front.

    The turmoil in Egypt is a test that, I fear, Obama and his Secretary of State, will not pass.

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Anti-Americanism, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, History, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Leftism, Middle East, National Security, Obama, Politics, Terrorism | 1 Comment »

    666.6 recurring?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 29th January 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    I’m hoping to give an extended treatment to Glenn Beck’s new documentary on Mahdism and Iranian nuclear ambitions shortly, not because I think Mahdism is unimportant – I don’t – but because I don’t think Beck is listening to some of the people with the most in-depth knowledge of the situation.

    In the meantime, I couldn’t resist the screen-grab from the docu in Quote #2, which accompanied Joel Rosenberg saying:

    This end times theology is not only what he believes, but it is why Ahmadinejad is putting his foot to the gas of accelerating Iran’s nuclear weapons development program, and the ballistic missile development as well – because once Ahmadinejad is able to acquire nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them, Ahmadinejad could do in about six minutes what it took Adolf Hitler about six years to do, and that is to kill 6 million Jews.

    You can have Nero for 666, or Aleister Crowley, or Ronald Wilson Reagan, or this Pope or any previous holder of that title, or Muhammad, or bar codes, or Ahmadinejad – but surely not all of them at once.

    *

    I’m shifting from talk about 666, the number of the Beast, to talk about the Antichrist now — which may or may not be a different topic, see for instance these notes from Scofield on Revelation

    *

    Joel Richardson, an email friend of mine who is the author of The Islamic AntiChrist and is featured in the documentary, believes the Antichrist and the Mahdi are one and the same: he calls the expectation of the Mahdi’s coming an “anti-parallel” of Christian expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, and says “Islam has literally taken the whole story and flipped it on its head”. Joel Rosenberg, whose latest thriller is titled The Twelfth Imam, and who is also featured, says that in his view the Mahdi may be “an” – but not “The” – Antichrist.

    *

    Back to the Beast:

    Rev. Ian Paisley, Baron Bannside, still says 666 is the Pope — but then he’s both a minister of religion and a Unionist politician from Northern Ireland.

    Posted in Britain, Christianity, Film, Iran, Islam, National Security, Religion, Rhetoric | 1 Comment »

    “Whoever took religion seriously?”

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 8th January 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from the DIME/PMESII boards at LinkedIn and Zenpundit ]

    I’ve been hammering away at the importance of a nuanced understanding of religious drivers in successful modeling of our world, and today I ran across some paragraphs from a book by Gary Sick that explain, forcefully and briefly, just why this seems like a big deal to me.

    1

    Sick, who was the National Security Council’s point man on Iran at the time of the Ayatollah Khomeini‘s Iranian Revolution, recounts how totally unprepared we were for the sudden emergence of a theocracy in his book, All Fall Down:

    Vision is influenced by expectations, and perceptions — especially in politics — are colored by the models and analogies all of us carry in our heads. Unfortunately, there were no relevant models in Western political tradition to explain what we were seeing in Iran during the revolution. This contradiction between expectation and reality was so profound and so persistent that it interfered fundamentally with the normal processes of observation and analysis on which all of us instinctively rely.
     
    On one level, it helps to explain why the early-warning functions of all existing intelligence systems — from SAVAK to Mossad to the CIA — failed so utterly in the Iranian case. Certainly, US intelligence capability to track the shah’s domestic opposition had been allowed to deteriorate almost to the vanishing point. But even if it had not, it would probably have looked in the wrong place. Only in retrospect is it obvious that a good intelligence organization should have focused its attention on the religious schools, the mosques and the recorded sermons of an aged religious leader who had been living in exile for fourteen years. As one State Department official remarked in some exasperation after the revolution, “Whoever took religion seriously?”
     
    Even after it became clear that the revolution was gaining momentum and that the movement was being organized through the mosques in the name of Khomeini, observers of all stripes assumed that the purely religious forces were merely a means to the end of ousting the shah and that their political role would be severely limited in the political environment following the shah’s departure, The mosque, it was believed, would serve as the transmission belt of the revolution, but its political importance would quickly wane once its initial objectives had been achieved.

    2

    The blissful ignorance didn’t end back there in 1979. Right at the end of 2006, reporter Jeff Stein asked Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Dem, TX), the incoming head of the House Intelligence Committee (which has oversight of the entire US Intelligence Community) whether Al-Qaida was Sunni or Shiite – noting in two asides, “Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East” and “To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?”

    Reyes guessed wrong – not good – and so did a lot of other senior people in the FBI, Congress and so forth. Understandable perhaps, but still, not good.

    The popular media keep many of the rest of us confused, too. Glenn Beck has been misinformed by the Christian thriller writer Joel Rosenberg, and refers to the “Twelvers” when he means the “Anjoman-e Hojjatieh” -which, to extend Stein’s point, is the equivalent of saying “Catholic Church” when you mean “Legionnaires of Christ”.

    3

    Okay, we know that religion has something to do with all this Iran – and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq, and Yemen, and Somalia, and Nigeria — and maybe even homegrown — mess. And I agree, other people’s religions really aren’t our business normally, and it’s not surprising if we don’t know much about them.

    Except, I’d say, when religions take up the sword, or have significant power to influence decisions about the use of nuclear weapons — at which point it’s appropriate to get up to speed…

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Beck-O-Lanche, Christianity, History, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Religion, Terrorism | 12 Comments »

    Follow-up: Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 24th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    This is a follow-up to my earlier post on Zenpundit and ChicagoBoyz, picking up on some comments made on both sites, explaining my own interests, and taking the inquiry a little further.

    On Zenpundit, Larry said, “Your need to destroy Assange is getting embarrassing. Why not make lemonaid?” and JN Kish, “The real story here should be about the data – and who is helping Assange – not Assange himself.” Meanwhile on ChicagoBoyz, a certain Gerald Attrick commented, “Ah, but as we say in in art crit: Deal with the Art and not the Man…”

    To Larry I would say, I think that my post WikiLeaks: Counterpoint at the State Department? — in which I point up the irony inherent in the same State Department spokesman celebrating World Press Freedom Day and chiding Assange for “providing a targeting list to a group like al-Qaida” on the same day — could as easily be read as pro-Assange as today’s post, Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange can be read as calling for his destruction.

    More generally, it seems to me that there are a whole lot of stories to be told here: the ones I wish to tell are those where I have a reasonably informed “nose” for relevant detail, and which tend to be overlooked by others — and thus have the potential to blindside us.

    *

    My own main interest is in tracking religious, mythic and apocalyptic themes in contemporary affairs, where they are all too easily overlooked, misunderstood or dismissed. Thus I have posted on Tracking the Mahdi on WikiLeaks, and added related material in section 1 of my post today.

    I am also interested in concept mapping, games and creative thinking — interests which led me to post WikiLeaks: Critical Foreign Dependencies and The WikiLeaks paradox, and more lightheartedly to take an amused sideways glance at WikiLeaks in The power of network visualization.

    And I certainly find Assange himself an interesting figure, and have done what I can to illuminate his background in mythology, religion and games in Wikileaks and the Search for a Cryptographic Mythology, again in Update: Wikileaks and Cryptographic Mythology and (again light-heartedly) in A DoubleQuote for Anders.

    *

    Let me be more explicit: I have no wish to lionize Assange, nor to feed him to the lions — I would like to understand him a little better.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior, International Affairs, Internet, Iran, National Security, Religion, Society | 2 Comments »

    Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 23rd December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    Martyr and messiah are two of the more intense “roles” in the religious vocabulary, and unlike mystics and saints, both martyrs and messiahs tend to have an impact, not just within their own religious circles but in the wider context of the times.

    Martyr and messiah are also words that can be bandied about fairly loosely — so a simple word-search on “messiah” will reveal references to a third-person platform game with some gunplay and the white messiah fable in Avatar, while a search on “martyr” might tell you how to become a martyr for affiliate networks, just as a search on “crusade” will turn up crusades for justice or mental health – my search today even pointed me to a crusade for cloth diapers.

    1. Martyrdom and messianism in WikiLeaks

    Unsurprisingly, perhaps, both terms crop up occasionally in WikiLeaks, with the Government of Iraq, for instance, banning use of the word “martyr” for soldiers who died in the war with Iran, and US diplomats wiring home a report by an opposition psychiatrist to the effect that “Morally, Chavez [of Venezuela] combines a sense of tragedy and romanticism (a desire for an idyllic world) to project a messianic image.” Indeed, the whole paragraph is choc-a-bloc with that kind of imagery, and worth quoting in full:

    Ideologically, Chavez wants to project an image of a “utopian socialist,” which de Vries described as someone who is revolutionary, collectivist, and dogmatic. In reality, de Vries argues, Chavez is an absolute pragmatist when it comes to maintaining power, which makes him a conservative. Coupled with Chavez’ self-love (narcissism), sense of destiny, and obsession with Venezuelan symbolism, this pragmatism makes Chavez look more like fascist, however, rather than a socialist. Morally, Chavez combines a sense of tragedy and romanticism (a desire for an idyllic world) to project a messianic image. De Vries, however, said Chavez is a realist who uses morals and ethics to fit the situation.

    PM Netanyahu of Israel was using the term “messianic” with a little more precision when he described the Iranian regime as “crazy, retrograde, and fanatical, with a Messianic desire to speed up a violent ‘end of days.’”

    2. Julian Assange in the role of martyr

    The words martyr and messiah, then, carry a symbolic freight that is at the very least comparable to that of flags and scriptures – so it is interesting that both terms crop up in the recent BBC interview with Julian Assange.

    My reading of the interview suggests that it is Assange himself who introduces the meme of martyrdom, though not the word itself, when he answers a question about the impact of the sexual accusations against him, “What impact do you think that will have on your organisation and what sort of figure do you think you, Julian Assange, cut in the face of all this. How will you be regarded? What will it do to you?” with the response, “I think it will be quite helpful for our organisation.”

    In the follow up, interviewer John Humphrys twice uses the word “martyr” explicitly:

    Q: Really? You see yourself as a martyr then?
     
    JA: I think it will focus an incredible attention on the details of this case and then when the details of this case come out and people look to see what the actions are compared to the reality of the facts, other than that, it will expose a tremendous abuse of power. And that will, in fact, be helpful to this organisation. And, in fact, the extra focus that has occurred over the last two weeks has been very helpful to this organisation.

    and:

    Q: Just to answer that question then. You think this will be good for you and good for Wikileaks?
     
    JA: I’ve had to suffer and we’ve had incredible disruptions.
     
    Q: You do see yourself as a martyr here.
     
    JA: Well, you know, in a very beneficial position, if you can be martyred without dying. And we’ve had a little bit of that over the past ten days. And if this case goes on, we will have more.

    3. Julian Assange in the role of messiah

    If the role of martyr implies, at minimum, that one suffers for a cause, that of messiah implies that one leads it in a profound transformation of the world. Both terms are now found in association with the word “complex” – which applies whenever a individual views himself or herself as a martyr or messiah – but a “messianic complex” is presumably more worrisome than a “martyr complex” if only for the reason that there are many more martyrs than messiahs, many more willing to suffer for a cause than to lead it.

    It is accordingly worth noting that it is the interviewer, John Humphrys, who introduces both the word “messianic” and the concept of a “messianic figure” into the interview, although Assange makes no effort to wave it away…

    Q: Just a final thought. Do you see yourself… as some sort of messianic figure?
     
    JA: Everyone would like to be a messianic figure without dying. We bringing some important change about what is perceived to be rights of people who expose abuses by powerful corporations and then to resist censorship attacks after the event. We are also changing the perception of the west.
     
    Q: I’m talking about you personally.
     
    JA: I’m always so focussed on my work, I don’t have time to think about how I perceive myself… I had time to perceive myself a bit more in solitary confinement. I was perfectly happy with myself. I wondered what that process would do. Would I think “my goodness, how have I got into this mess, is it all just too hard?”
     
    The world is a very ungrateful place, why should I continue to suffer simply to try and do some good in the world. If the world is so viciously against it ,why don’t I just go off and do some mathematics or write some books? But no, actually, I felt quite at peace.
     
    Q: You want to change the world?
     
    JA: Absolutely. The world has a lot of problems and they need to be reformed. And we only live once. Every person who has some ability to do something about it, if they are a person of good character, has the duty to try and fix the problems in the environment which they’re in.
     
    That is a value, that, yes, comes partly from my temperament. There is also a value that comes from my father, which is that capable, generous men don’t create victims, they try and save people from becoming victims. That is what they are tasked to do. If they do not do that they are not worthy of respect or they are not capable.

    4. Julian Assange, martyr and messiah?

    I think it is clear that both Assange and his interviewer are in effect reframing the religious terms “martyr” and “messiah” in non-religious, basically psychological senses — although I don’t suppose Assange is exactly claiming to have the two “complexes” I mentioned above.

    Here’s what’s curious about this reframing, from a religious studies point of view:

    Assange’s implicit acceptance of a “messianic” role undercuts the specific force of the role of “martyr” – one who gives his life for the cause. “Everyone” he says, “would like to be a messianic figure without dying.” Assange wouldn’t exactly object to being a martyr without dying, too.

    Posted in Christianity, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Internet, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Media, Morality and Philosphy, National Security, Personal Narrative, Philosophy, Privacy, Religion, Rhetoric, Society, The Press, USA | 9 Comments »

    Worse Than I Thought

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st December 2010 (All posts by )

    For a long time I assumed Obama was a communist. How else to explain his support for the Honduran Chavista Manuel Zelaya? Ideological sympathy on Obama’s part seemed the simplest explanation.

    However, documents from WikiLeaks suggest an even worse possibility, namely that the whole sorry affair was driven by incompetence at a level that’s astonishing even by the low standards of the Obama administration. Were they really so eager to appease Chavez? That’s crazy even if Obama is personally sympathetic to Chavez. It was easily predictable that Chavez would pocket any concessions and go for more and that’s what happened. And now an emboldened Chavez appears to have invited Iran to install ballistic missiles in Venezuela, and we do nothing. We are cruising toward another Cuban Missile Crisis but with weaker leadership on our side, adversaries who are less stable than the Soviets were, and erstwhile allies scared off by our fecklessness. How much trouble might have been prevented if we had taken a firm line in support of the elected Honduran government and warned Chavez to stay out?

    If we’re lucky Obama will be out of office before the inevitable crisis occurs.

    UPDATE: Jed Babbin on The Coming Venezuela Missile Crisis:

    That crisis will consume much international attention next year, though a more important spread of Middle Eastern conflict to the Americas – the partnership between Iran and Venezuela – will likely be ignored until it is too late to resolve by any means short of war.

    Posted in Americas, Iran, Latin America, Leftism, National Security, Obama, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    King Abdullah’s health and the Signs of the Times

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 19th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is currently recovering from two recent surgeries in hospital in the US, may he, may we all be blessed with good health.

    1.

    Dr. Kamal El-Helbawy of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism in London was quoted yesterday by [Iranian] Press TV as saying that a coup might take place in Saudi Arabia:

    “It is possible that a coup could happen, and I see nothing to prevent that from happening,” Dr. Kamal Helbawy of the Center for the Study of Terrorism said in an interview with Press TV aired on Saturday. “Both in Qatar and Oman in the past, the sons of the kings stole the leadership from their fathers, and I think there is a rift in the house of Saud,” he added. [ … ] “With his old age and sickness, there is suspicion about succession. There has been tension in the family for several decades. I believe there is a political and religious crisis,” Helbawy said.

    [ h/t Habiba Hamid ]

    2.

    I have no special insight into the affairs of the Kingdom. I only mention this press report because just today I ran across a reference to the Kuwaiti Shi’ite author Jaber Bolushi and his book [downloadable here in Arabic], Appearance of Imam Mahdi in 2015 — which brings us back to King Abdullah.

    We need (IMO) to get used to the idea that every newsworthy event has the potential to spark some kind of reaction in the apocalyptic mind.

    I do not wish to suggest that any given event will necessarily spark a Mahdist response — just that it may — and that we should therefore keep tabs on Mahdist and messianic sentiment in general, and note carefully what “signs of the times” might prove persuasive to those who seek such things.

    3.

    The Sunni site where I found Bolushi’s book mentioned, contained the following among a list of “signs” of the soon-coming of the Mahdi:

    Death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (we wish him long life) in 2015: The Shia believe that King Abdullah will be the last king of the House of Saud before the appearance of the Mahdi. Jaber Bolushi cites a Hadith attributed to Prophet Mohammad صلى الله عليه وسلم (the Shia claim this Hadith used to be reported in Musnad Ahmad, but was later removed) in which the Prophet mentions that the last man who will govern Al-Hijaz (the region that includes Mecca & Medina) before the Mahdi will be called Abdullah and he will be the successor of his brother who is named by the name of an animal. The previous king of Saudi Arabia was King Fahd (Fahd means leopard). It is worth noting that King Abdullah is currently 84 years old. After he dies, a dispute will occur among the royal family as to who should succeed him. There will be a strife and blood shed. Then, people will search for the Mahdi and offer him allegiance between Rukun and Maqam in the Haram Masjid in Mecca.

    4.

    My point is not to discuss the health of King Abdullah – I wish him well – nor the specifics of this particular prophecy – date-setting seems to me to be a fool’s errand, even according to the scriptures of the various religions where it is practiced.

    My point, again, is that today’s news – whatever it is — will be “read” and understood within dozens of conflicting apocalyptic contexts, most of which we are in general unaware of, with possible repercussions on the world stage that may therefore take us by surprise.

    5.

    Jean-Pierre Filiu in his recently published book, Apocalypse in Islam, writes that:

    ambitious militia leaders, such as Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq and Hasan Nasrallah in Lebanon, consciously exploit popular messianic feeling in order to assert their authority at the expense of the Shi’i clerical establishment, without allowing themselves to fall captive to apocalyptic rhetoric. [ … ] For the moment, only the Iraqi militia known as the Supporters of the Imam Mahdi has actively sought to translate the rise of eschatological anxiety into political action. Yet one day a larger and more resourceful group, eager (like Abu Musab al-Suri) to tap the energy of the “masses” as a way of achieving superiority over rival formations, may be strongly tempted to resort to the messianic gambit. An appeal to the imminence of apocalypse would provide it with an instrument of recruitment, a framework for interpreting future developments, and a way of refashioning and consolidating its own identity. In combination, these things could have far-reaching and deadly consequences.

    That’s the point.

    Posted in International Affairs, Iran, Islam, Middle East, National Security, Predictions, Religion, Rhetoric | 3 Comments »

    Update: Wikileaks and Cryptographic Mythology

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 4th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    It seems my intuition of a Lovecraft connection with WikiLeaks was right, as was Jean’s suggestion that the MARUTUKKU quote is “more specific and extensive and ‘mythological’” than the translations of Enuma Elish she’d found on the net. I dropped Anders Sandberg a line letting him know I’d quoted him in my earlier post, and he graciously responded with this clarification of the mystery:

    I think the MARUTUKKU name/description is from the Simon Necronomicon, which did its best to shoehorn mythology into the mythos, and might explain the different translation. Of course, one might argue that that book is a real, a hoax posing as real, real posing as a hoax, or both at the same time.

    Anders, currently a staff member with the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford (which name strikingly reminds me of the Bright Futures Institute in Qom, Oxford’s parallel in the Iranian universe), is also known for his writings on Mage: the Ascension and other role-playing games — see for instance this account of the Asatru in M:tA.

    *

    Bryan Alexander Steve Burnett

    The bearded, theremin-wielding mage Steve Burnett [left] also noted the origin of the MARUTUKKU quote in the Simon Necronomicon in his comment on my no-less-bearded mage-friend [right] Bryan Alexander‘s blog Infocult — which features a rich vein of gothic imaginings and runs with the subtitle “We haunt every medium we make”.

    My warm regards to all…

    Posted in Diversions, Iran, Philosophy | 14 Comments »

    A DoubleQuote for Anders

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 3rd December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    One of my hobbies is finding apposite quotes to juxtapose — I call them DoubleQuotes and think of them as twin pebbles dropped into the mind-pool for the pleasure of watching the ripples…

    And I particulartly enjoy it when one of my DoubleQuotes manages to span different sensory streams — aural, visual, verbal, numerical, cinematic — as here, with text and image.

    This one’s for Anders Sandberg.

    QUOAcausal

    I’d been carrying around the quote from WikiLeaks for a few days, but it was running across the Dresden Codak via Anders’ Andart blog today that gave me the second “dot” to connect with the first.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Diversions, Iran, Islam, Philosophy, Quotations | 5 Comments »

    Tracking the Mahdi on WikiLeaks

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 30th November 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    A quick search for “Mahdi” and “Mehdi” and “Twelfth Imam” in the 294 messages so far published in diplomatic Wikileaks reveals some references to individuals with those names, and a couple to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi (spelled “Jaysh al-Madhi” in one cable by someone who is perhaps confused by the similarity of the name to that of Mahatma Gandhi), along with three cables in which Mahdism is touched upon.

    1

    09ASHGABAT1182 of September 16, 2009 reports a comment by an undisclosed source who is “adamant” that the US should not enter into direct talks with Iran’s leadership:

    Not only, he insisted, is the Iranian leadership “untrustworthy,” and dominated by a group of “messianics,” who base crucial decisions about domestic and foreign policy on a belief in the imminent return of the “Missing” (Twelfth) Imam.

    From my point of view, any foreign policy based on or strongly influenced by belief in the imminent return of a prophesied figure of good or evil, whether that figure be Moshiach or Christ or Mahdi, Antichrist or Dajjal, should be cause for concern: from a religious perspective, because messianic expectations are precisely what Matthew is talking about when he writes that “false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24.24) – and from a secular perspective because such identifications have been made again and again across history, often with disastrous results (think Waco, think the 1979 siege of Mecca, think the Taiping Rebellion).

    That’s why I’m interested in monitoring the various strands of apocalyptic thinking out and about in the world today.

    2

    A little over a month earlier, on August 3, 2009, 09RPODUBAI316 under the sub-head “A Benevolent Dictator’s Fall from Grace” discussed the idea that the “Arab street” (both Sunni and Shi’a are mentioned) initially saw some Mahdist qualities in Ahmadinejad:

    A Syrian journalist and blogger, who owns a media consultancy firm in Dubai, believes that many in the Arab street initially viewed Ahmadinejad when he came to power in 2005 as a “benevolent dictator.” Citing the tradition of the Mahdi, the media consultant argued that both Shi’a and Sunni Arabs are taught from early childhood to await the arrival of a strong and unimpeachable figure who will lead the Muslim world. The media consultant maintained that even secular Arabs view the world, albeit unintentionally, with this ingrained mindset. Our contact argued that Ahmadinejad played in to this narrative, and when Ahmadinejad arrived on the international stage many Arabs saw him, in contrast to their own flawed leaders, as a humble and pious man who was brave enough to stand up for his people and the greater Muslim world by confronting Israel and the West head on. However, both the intensely competitive campaign period and the forceful reaction by the Iranian people to the official election results have led some moderate Arabs to rethink Ahmadinejad’s true disposition. The election, the media consultant said, led some Arabs to understand that despite his astutely crafted and well-marketed image in the Arab world, Ahmadinejad is resented by many Iranians for domestic mismanagement, incompetence, and corruption. Because of this public fall from grace, so the media consultant told us, Ahmadinejad is no longer the “untouchable, holy figure” in the Arab world he once was — his flaws have brought him down to the level of the Arab world’s own imperfect leaders.

    I’m reminded of the way that Steve Davis of Charleston, SC, among others, projected messianic qualities onto then-candidate Obama, when he wrote:

    Barack’s appeal is actually messianic, it’s something about his aura, his spirit, his soul, that exudes enlightenment in the making.

    I interpret Obama’s Lebanon, NH remarks as making light of that sort of projection (McCain’s video makes light of it, too), whereas Ahmadinejad appears to take his own status within the aura of the Mahdi all too seriously.

    3

    The last reference allows me to end on a happier note.

    The French diplo Jean-Christophe Paucelle is quoted in 09PARIS1046 of July 31, 2009 on the topic of Ahmadinejad’s inauguration.

    First he mentions that since non-Muslims had not been invited to previous inaugurations, European members of the diplomatic corps might not know which door to take if they wished to walk out on the ceremony, should such an action be called for… and then he discusses an additional reason why the French would attend the ceremony, despite the contested nature of the election:

    Paucelle said that the case of detained French citizen Clothilde Reiss has also influenced the EU decision to attend the inauguration ceremonies. “We think she may be released soon, and we don’t want to create another irritant,” Paucelle said. “There are enough already.” He reported that the French have reason to believe Reiss may form part of a group of detainees likely to be released on the August 7 anniversary of Imam Mahdi. Paucelle noted that a letter released July 29 by Ahmadinejad supported the idea of granting clemency to post-election protesters during Mahdi celebrations. “The Iranians will need to take face-saving measures, and so she will likely transfer to house arrest or some other status,” Paucelle said. He added that, of course, she may not be released at all next week, but the French remain optimistic that she will soon be out of prison.

    Clotilde Reiss was indeed not released on that occasion — but she was in fact freed somewhat later, on Sunday, May 16th, 2010.

    Posted in Christianity, France, History, International Affairs, Iran, Islam, Judaism, National Security, Obama, Predictions, Religion, Rhetoric | 1 Comment »

    Net Protest: extending the Anglosphere

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 5th November 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from SmartMobs ]

    One little detail caught my eye in a Foreign Policy AfPak Channel blog report yesterday.

    Whether their first language is Kashmiri or Farsi, the internet makes English the language of choice for protesters.

    Kashmiris are slowly harnessing the power of the internet to create a communal digital protest and to forge a voice for themselves in the democratic realm of cyberspace. In 2010 Kashmir’s Generation Next, those who were born or young during the turbulence of the 1990s, found their voices. Unlike Kashmiri youth of the 1990s who were silenced given India’s media, U.N. and NGO blackout of Kashmir, new technologies and social media have made it possible for Kashmiris to begin to tell their own stories, to have a voice and a narrative that can reach beyond the Valley and into international consciousness. Facebook and You Tube have been transformative, creating a cadre of citizen-journalists and more artistic expressions in which Kashmiris create video montages set to music and images, providing a voice whether in Kashmiri or English, such as Kashmiri-American Mubashir Mohi-u-Din’s take on the Steven Van Zandt song Patriot.
     
    This summer Kashmir’s youth have learned two lessons from other international struggles for justice: Iran and Palestine. In 2009 Iranian youth and social activists harnessed the power of social media as young Iranians took to the internet and street in the face of state suppression. Iranians demanded “where is my vote?” — the slogan, appearing curiously and ubiquitously in English, was meant for an international audience, to raise attention to the struggles occurring within the Islamic Republic of Iran after the results of the presidential election were called into question. Similarly, “I protest” cries out in a language that is not native to Kashmir but has united Kashmiris globally as they seek an international audience.

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Anglosphere, International Affairs, Internet, Iran, Miscellaneous | Comments Off

    How you move stuff around is an interesting topic, isn’t it?

    Posted by onparkstreet on 3rd October 2010 (All posts by )

    China has shown interest in the construction of two railway lines—-one in Pakistan via the Gilgit-Baltistan region and the other in Afghanistan. While the railway line through Gilgit-Baltistan, ultimately extending up to Gwadar on the Mekran coast, will meet the external trade requirements of Chinese-controlled Xinjiang and other regions of Western China, the proposed line in Afghanistan will meet the requirements of a copper mine which China is developing in the Aynak area in Afghanistan.

    – Raman’s Strategic Analysis

    8. However, because of the alternate routes through the CARs being developed by them and their ability for air-lift from Bahrain, they are able to manage despite the increasing attacks on the convoys in Pakistani territory. When the US and other NATO forces start thinning down their presence in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army (ANA) would not enjoy these benefits. The Pakistan Army and the Taliban acting in tandem would be able to choke the ANA by interfering with its logistic supplies. Even if the US plays a diminishing role in ground operations after July 2011, it cannot reduce its logistics role in support of the ANA. Otherwise, the ANA could collapse.

    – Raman’s Strategic Analysis

    Although the Chahbahar port has been an Indian project for some time, the Iranian side has been notoriously lax in keeping to its end of the bargain.

    The port is strategically important — serving as the entry point for India’s outreach into Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. For this purpose, India also spent a lot of money and human lives to build the Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, which was intended to link up with the Chahbahar port. But establishing those linkages turned out to be more difficult than India imagined. The political situation in Iran over the past year has scarcely helped.

    Times of India

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, China, Economics & Finance, India, Iran | 11 Comments »

    Mini-Book Review — Ross — The Volunteer: A Canadian’s Secret Life in the Mossad

    Posted by James McCormick on 24th September 2010 (All posts by )

    Ross, Michael with Jonathan Kay, The Volunteer: A Canadian’s Secret Life in the Mossad, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2007. 278 pp.

    Recommended by Ishmael Jones, author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Culture, reviewed here on chicagoboyz.

    In late 1982, 21 year-old Michael Ross arrived in Israel to escape cold weather. After a three year hitch in the Canadian Army, tackled right out of high school, he was on vacation. Backpackers visiting Europe on a budget often traded their wintertime labour at Israeli kibbutzim for free room and board. Michael was soon headed for one in the Beit Shean valley.

    Hailing from Victoria, British Columbia and a mildly Anglican religious background, even being in Israel was a stretch. Far more likely that he’d be kayaking, or mountain-biking, or growing dope up in the Rockies. Short of the North Island of New Zealand, or perhaps Marin County, California, there’s hardly a more heavenly place in the English-speaking world than the Gulf Islands between the city of Vancouver and Vancouver Island. It’s “Lotus-land” to eastern Canadians. A young man just out of an army should have found all the pleasure and excitement he could want in the Pacific Coast lifestyle.

    Michael’s background certainly didn’t suggest a future in one of the most respected, yet constantly imperiled, clandestine services in the world — the Mossad. Nor could it predict that he would take a side in one of the nastiest confrontations between the modern industrialized world and its neighbours. Yet for almost two decades “Michael Ross” was to serve in a variety of military and intelligence roles for his adopted home under conditions of unimaginable danger. How he came to do so is both fascinating and rather unsettling.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, International Affairs, Iran, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Military Affairs, Terrorism, War and Peace | 6 Comments »